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Author Interview: M. J. Milne Chats about Secrets of the Italian Villa

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Get ready to learn more about the book Secrets of the Italian Villa in this discussion with sapphic author M. J. Milne.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz M. J. Milne about Secrets of the Italian Villa, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Summer / Vacation Fling category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Secrets of the Italian Villa?

After my 20-year relationship crashed and burned–KA-PLOP–I wrote the book over a period of five years, basically, to heal a broken heart. And yes, it is a healing story about finding love after loss. But it’s not autobiographical; however, in a way, it is “emotionally autobiographical”.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I’d have to say the main character, Gerri McKenna, and also, Kate Bradshaw, the secondary character. Gerri is creative and skilled in cooking. I’m not. Not at all. Which makes Kate’s character more similar to me because she’s an artist, and I’m also an artist and a writer.

What inspired the idea for Secrets of the Italian Villa?

After my 20-year relationship dissolved, I travelled to Italy with a group of twelve friends; I was the thirteenth, now single. We stayed in a villa together. Their energy and vibrancy, literally energized me to keep going. I loved it. But it wasn’t until years later when my sister and I were in Florence that I said over breakfast, “I can’t get back to writing. It’s driving me crazy!” My sister put down her fork, calmly looked around at the amazing Duomo and sights, then said, “Why don’t you write an Italian story?” — It was like a light-bulb inside my head turned ON. And when I got back home, I opened a notebook and began to outline a story.

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

Sticking to the story. My imagination has a tendency to wander big time. I had to reel-in storylines and cut-cut-cut.

What part of Secrets of the Italian Villa was the most fun to write?

The fun part was seeing where Gerri, the protagonist, would take us, how far would she go. And then, of course, writing about the fun ‘an frolLICKin’ Villa Galz and their shenanigans!

How did you come up with the title for your book?

I had a list of five or six titles and asked several friends which one they resonated with: “Secrets of the Italian Villa” won all their hearts.

How much research did you need to do for Secrets of the Italian Villa?

I had to do lots of research. The story takes place at Lake Como, Italy. Previously to even knowing I’d write about it, I had travelled there twice. Now, I went twice to consciously research the beautiful area. The villa the characters stay in is real. I found one in the tiny hamlet of Argegno, and you can actually rent it. I haven’t told anyone the villa’s real name.

If you’re planning a sequel, can you share a tiny bit about your plans for it?

The visioning of a sequel is somewhere in the back of my mind, percolating—but nothing definite yet, so I can’t say.

What is your favorite line from your book?

Gerri McKenna writes in her travel journal: When do I begin to breathe? You kissed my cheeks. It felt like tiny raindrops, warm, wet, lingering. I opened my lips, hopeful. Instead, a beautiful distance bore you away.

What is your writing process like?

Short story writer Alice Munro, who recently died at age 92, always wanted to get in there and change things in her published works. Once I finish a book, I’m finished. That’s possibly why I’m a Plotter. I outline, I think about the story, I write in notebooks all my ideas. But I’m also a Panster, because once I have a rough Outline, I let it go and start writing, letting the stream of consciousness writing kick-in—which usually gets me into trouble, because I have to reign myself in. Lol! I usually write everyday from noon to 4:00 p.m., in my office. I like to write with meditative music in the background; no lyrics, just music. It helps me to focus, and allows me to drift away into a visual innerscape. Having written screenplays, I’m a visual writer.

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

I never know when I’ve finished a book. It could take ten drafts or twenty. And then, once I send it to an editor, and she works on it and sends it back, then I start all over again. Is it ever finished? — Yes, when I can do no more. I celebrated finishing “Secrets…” with a book launch, surrounded by friends. It’s a strange feeling coming out of my Writer’s Cave after five-to-seven years; I’m taking baby steps. Luckily, my friends and family are there waiting to embrace me.

Is there a particular genre you would love to write but only under a pseudonym?

I’ve written Science Fiction (“Universal Tides”); I’ve written Inspirational non-fiction (“12 Golden Keys for a New World”). When I completed my WLW, sapphic romance novel, I considered using a pseudonym. But decided I wanted to be real. This is who I am. And I’m multi-genre.

Have you ever cried when writing an emotional scene?

Oh, yes. Because of the nature of the book, and how personal a story it is, yes, I would cry. There’s a particular emotionally frantic scene when Gerri rips off her bra in the middle of a forest, and stomps on it. It’s humorous, but it’s her epiphany. It’s also emotional.

Have you ever fallen in love with one of your characters?

I think as writers we always fall in love with our character(s). I felt inspired by the main character’s bravery; her wanting to go on. There’s a scene in the book where one of the other characters asks her how she kept going after the death of her partner. Her answer surprised even me. She said something like, “You get rid of the razor blades. You throw away the booze and the pills. And you FEEL the pain. Feel it. You’ll move on and it will get better. I promise.” (Not her exact dialogue.) It’s a wonderful story about finding the courage to love again after loss.

What type of books do you enjoy reading the most?

I love to research subjects, so I’m primarily a non-fiction reader.

Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?

Alice Munro, Barbara Marciniak, Barbara Hand Clow, my mind’s blank right now. I wanted to write about how to change the world, one story at a time.

What books did you grow up reading?

Winnie the Pooh — a family favorite. Seriously. My literature teacher in school used to end each class by reading a chapter of Winnie the Pooh. It’s enlightening. It’s simple to understand and straightforward. That’s how I like to write.

What books have you read more than once in your life?

Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

What book do you wish you had written?

There are many sapphic books by many authors that I loved reading. Sorry, my mind is blank. It must be suppertime. Thanks for these questions. All of the questions were wonderful. – MJ xo

Describe your favorite reading spot.

On the couch, gazing out at the ocean.

Meet M. J. Milne

M. J. Milne – Author, artist, screenplay writer, traveler, bus driver, gold miner, receptionist, you name it, MJ’s been there, done that. As a result, her favorite saying is: “Life is an adventure! And it gets curiouser and curiouser along the trail.” Raised in the rainforests under a dormant volcano, in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, educated at the Vancouver School of Art, the universities of UBC and SFU, Milne has loved every bit of the journey. Her published writings include: “12 Golden Keys for a New World” an inspirational non-fiction; “Universal Tides” a prophetic, socio-ecological science fiction novel; “Secrets of the Italian Villa” Women’s Romance Fiction; and others simmering on the back burner; she has also written feature film screenplays.

Visit M. J. Milne’s Website

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